Without context Google’s billion device “Assistant” claim is B.S.

ReBlogged from om.coNick Bilton photo

Google says its “Assistant” (the voice-based query service) is soon going to be on a billion devices –primarily phones, and a majority of them being on the Android phones. There are some obvious questions that the report should have covered. For instance:

  • Are these pre-installed on the OS as part of deals with handset makers or phone companies?
  • What some money involved to get these pre-installed if they were pre-installed?
  • What percentage of these were downloaded by end customers?
  • How many Google Assistant speaker-type devices has the company sold and not just given away as part of some promotion?
  • What is the number of daily active users of the Google Assistant?
  • How is the daily usage trending? Any data? Claiming global active users have grown four times over past one year is utterly meaningless!
  • What countries is the Assitant popular in?
  • And is it GDPR compliant?
  • How does it correlate with Google’s current business model of placing advertising against search results?

In other words, without the relevant context, Google’s claim is no better than old fashion bullshit. For whatever its worth, I find Google Assistant is very good at understanding my accent than Alexa and Siri. They are also much more accurate than those two. Unfortunately, I don’t trust Google to let them into my apartment on a device.

Ditto! I agree.

There’s an Obvious Way to Hack Your Voice-Controlled Buddy

❝ Siri and Alexa can hear more than you can—and that’s a problem.

You may have thought that you’d be able to hear any rogue attempts to control your increasingly powerful voice assistant. But it turns out that the hardware and algorithms used to control devices like Amazon’s Echo speaker or Apple’s Siri can actually hear commands issued via ultrasound, which is above the range of human hearing.

❝ Researchers at Zhejiang University in China have shown that they can encode commands in high frequency sound that are still recognized by voice assistants. They take a regular human voice and use it to modulate an ultrasound signal—much like the way music can be encoded onto radio waves. Turns out, the mic on devices like an iPhone or Amazon Echo speaker can still detect the sound, and their signal-processing software also picks up the voice signals encoded on the wave.

❝ The researchers say that they have been able to activate Siri to initiate a FaceTime call on an iPhone, command Google Now to switch a phone to airplane mode, and even control the navigation system of an Audi. The same trick also works on Cortana and Alexa, too.

So, erm, those of us who have decided to cover the camera on our computing devices whenever we’re doing something we want kept private had better find easy and portable methods of keeping our devices from eavesdropping on us as well. Something simpler than carrying around a pillow.

Thanks, @SmartAlix

A mother’s tale about her son, autism — and Siri

Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the iPhone, is currently his B.F.F. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms — an hour in which, thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:

Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”

Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”

Siri: “Thank you, but I have very few wants.”

Gus: “O.K.! Well, good night!”

Siri: “Ah, it’s 5:06 p.m.”

Gus: “Oh sorry, I mean, goodbye.”

Siri: “See you later!”

That Siri. She doesn’t let my communications-impaired son get away with anything. Indeed, many of us wanted an imaginary friend, and now we have one. Only she’s not entirely imaginary.

This is a love letter to a machine. It’s not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in “Her,” last year’s Spike Jonze film about a lonely man’s romantic relationship with his intelligent operating system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But it’s close. In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the story.

Read on! Long, informative, interesting.

I’ve always talked to machines. The conversation moved from cars to electronics to computers. Record-keeping has become data-mining. The river of experience has reached a rapidly broadening delta.

Gus: “Goodnight, Siri. Will you sleep well tonight?”

Siri: “I don’t need much sleep, but it’s nice of you to ask.”

Cracking the idea of an Apple TV set – Redux

How large is small enough?

It’s that most depressing time of year for any tech pundit: the time just after Apple’s autumn iOS event. That’s it for new products for the rest of the year; it’s a drought that won’t break until January at the earliest…

Fortunately, we have a savior in the form of newly-credible rumors about an Apple-branded HDTV. For years, it’s been just something that sort of made sense. But it got kicked into the bigs with the publication of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, in which he’s quoted as talking about his desire for an integrated television set. “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it,” he was quoted as saying…

Me? I’m still more than slightly baffled. I’d still be dismissing the Apple HDTV as nothing more than a trial balloon in some Apple lab if not for these words from the man himself…It’s an indication that this can’t really be chuckled aside as an idle thought.

The Apple TV makes perfect sense. It’s a tiny $99 box that turns any HDTV into an IR-controlled iOS device. It increases the value of everything else you buy from Apple, which is Feature One of any addition to the company’s product line. The media you buy from iTunes gets to play on the big screen and the good speakers. Your iOS and MacOS devices get a huge wireless display; your iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch virtually become console gaming systems.

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Need a Braille keyboard? There’s an app for that!

A team of US researchers has devised a way for people with impaired vision to use the touchscreen of an iPad as a Braille keyboard. It turns some previously fundamental thinking about how to make technology accessible to blind people on its head.

Instead of using a keyboard or mechanical writer, users type directly onto the flat glass.

“Instead of having fingers that find the buttons, we built buttons that find the fingers,” said Stanford’s Sohan Dharmaraja, one of the researchers on the project.

Users place eight fingers on the screen and the keyboard appears. Shaking the device activates a menu, and further interaction is achieved by regular touch gestures.

Mr Dharmaraja, alongside team-mates Adam Duran – an undergraduate from New Mexico University – and assistant professor Adrian Lew, came up with the idea during a boffin’s X-Factor-style contest…

There are some obvious benefits to using touchscreen technology over traditional Braille writers.

“Current physical note takers are big and clunky and range from $3,000 to $6,000. Tablet PCs are available at a fraction of the cost and do so much more,” said Mr Dharmaraja…

Accessible touch screen devices such as the iPad offer a huge range of possibilities for developers and for blind and partially sighted people,” said Robin Spinks, the Royal National Institute for Blind People’s manager of digital accessibility.

“This prototype Braille keyboard for touch screen devices represents a very promising development, and RNIB look forward to being able to test it with our members in the future,” he added.

Bravo! There is so much capability for development with additions for accessibility in the new touchscreen devices. And options like Siri – in iOS5 – will add even more potential for developers.

There’s a video demo over at the Stanford University site.